Long snapper wrestles with dual roles

Sophomore Jake Filkins was recruited by J Robinson to walk on to the wrestling team, but earned a football scholarship last season.

Josh Katzenstein

Jake Filkins loves MinnesotaâÄôs football season because he can eat whatever he wants.

The two-sport athlete doesnâÄôt have the same luxury during the GophersâÄô wrestling season.

Filkins, a sophomore from Prescott, Wis., joined the football team as a long snapper last season after being recruited by J Robinson to wrestle. He now participates in two of the most grueling collegiate sports in back-to-back seasons.

âÄúYou know, heâÄôs a tough kid, and thatâÄôs a good thing,âÄù said football coach Jerry Kill, who coached one season of wrestling at Midwest City High School (Oklahoma) and has never had a football player also wrestle in his 17 seasons as a collegiate head coach.

Toughness, though, does not necessarily breed excellence. FilkinsâÄô most noteworthy play from 2010 came against Purdue when he sailed a snap over punter Dan OrseskeâÄôs head. The Boilermakers took a 14-0 lead six plays later and went on to win 28-17.

Tim Brewster was fired the following morning.

âÄúThe second I let it go IâÄôm like, âÄòOh crap. That could be high,âÄôâÄù Filkins said of the botched snap. âÄúAll of a sudden I heard all the fans cheer. I looked back and saw the back of DanâÄôs jersey, and IâÄôm like, âÄòOh no.âÄôâÄù

After the blunder against Purdue, FilkinsâÄô wrestling teammates gave him a harder time than the football team. His roommate, 149-pounder Danny Zilverberg, actually changed his computer background to a photo of Filkins with his hands on his helmet.

âÄúThey tease him,âÄù head assistant wrestling coach Joe Russell said. âÄúI would say itâÄôs a little rivalry, and they want to have fun with it, but everybody is super supportive. If he has a bad performance theyâÄôll let him know about it just like they would on the wrestling mat.

âÄúHeâÄôs representing the wrestlers when heâÄôs out there snapping the football, so thereâÄôs a little more pressure on him. But itâÄôs in fun, and I think everybody enjoys seeing him do it.âÄù

Recruited to wrestle

Filkins tore his ACL the summer before his junior year at Prescott High School. He had been ranked in the top-25 nationally at 189 pounds as a sophomore but never returned to the rankings.

Robinson was the only collegiate coach who looked past his injury and invited him to join the team as a recruited walk on.

âÄúA lot of the good, big guys usually end up playing football, so you need good guys that are bigger, and he showed some interest,âÄù Russell said. âÄúThere was a thought that he wanted to be a Division I wrestler, so weâÄôd better get him. A guy thatâÄôs local like that, we donâÄôt want him going to Wisconsin or Iowa or something like that.âÄù

Filkins came to Minnesota to wrestle as a 197-pounder. When he tried out for the football team as a freshman in spring of 2009, coaches told Filkins he had to bulk up. That meant he had to move up to heavyweight on the mat, which proved to be a bittersweet move.

Tony Nelson is the same age as Filkins, and the two heavyweights have three years of eligibility remaining. Filkins served as a backup during the 2010-11 season and never wrestled varsity while Nelson earned All-American honors.

âÄúMy dream was always to start for a [Division I] wrestling program, and that may not happen now,âÄù said Filkins, admitting wrestling âÄî not football âÄî is his passion. âÄúBut you know what? Now I look at it as, âÄòhis goal is to be a national champ. What can I do to help him get there?âÄôâÄù****

Filkins spent much of last season as NelsonâÄôs drill partner. Robinson would watch film on NelsonâÄôs upcoming opponent, and Filkins would reenact the competitorâÄôs tendencies. Filkins never had a guaranteed starting spot as a walk on, but with only three heavyweights on next yearâÄôs roster, wrestling isnâÄôt out of the question.

âÄúItâÄôs not like heâÄôs a long way away from being the starter,âÄù Russell said. âÄúAn injury or something and he could be competing for us.âÄù

âÄòHe made my hands stingâÄô

During winter wrestling workouts in FilkinsâÄô redshirt year, he and some of the wrestlers âÄî including Kevin Steinhaus, a quarterback in high school âÄî went into the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex and started throwing a football around. Filkins started hurling deep snaps and the wrestlers nagged him to try out for the football team.

Shortly thereafter, he spoke to former special teams coach John Butler, who invited him to spring practice after seeing him snap. With a successful month of spring ball, Butler and Brewster invited him to try out in the fall. Filkins continued to impress, and he earned a scholarship and the starting snapper postion for the punting unit.

âÄúI didnâÄôt know who he was or anything about him. Then I saw him around and he went out, and when he snapped the ball he made my hands sting,âÄù Orseske said. âÄúHeâÄôs the faster snapper IâÄôve ever caught a ball from.âÄù

FilkinsâÄô dad was a long snapper in high school, and when seventh grade football came around, the two went out in the backyard and started snapping. HeâÄôs been doing it ever since.

And although the Gophers were the worst net punting team in the nation last season, which Filkins asserts was not wholly the fault of the punter, he continues to work and improve.

âÄúJakeâÄôs a great snapper, and heâÄôs gotten a lot better than when he started last year,âÄù Orseske said.

Necessary sacrifices

The Gophers wrestling team will compete at Ohio State this weekend as part of spring competitions, which donâÄôt count for the season. Wrestlers will compete in Olympic-style Greco-Roman wrestling at the meet, FilkinsâÄô favorite style.

Filkins, though, will be at TCF Bank Stadium for SaturdayâÄôs football spring game.

âÄúTheyâÄôre paying his bills, so his priorities have to be with [football],âÄù Russell said. âÄúI know heâÄôs bummed he canâÄôt compete. He understands his commitment to the football team.âÄù

The commitment to both causes Filkins to miss practices for each. Last season he missed fall wrestling workouts because of football. After the Gophers failed to make a bowl game, he went back to wrestling, but he missed winter football workouts. Varsity collegiate sports never really stop practicing, so Filkins is always missing one.

It doesnâÄôt help that the physical requirements for wrestling and football are quite different, and he wasnâÄôt in wrestling shape after last football season.

âÄúIt is very time consuming what heâÄôs doing with the football team,âÄù Russell said. âÄúWhen they have downtime, heâÄôs with us. I suspect once theyâÄôre done with spring ball weâÄôll see him in the room quite often.âÄù

Filkins isnâÄôt the first Minnesota student-athlete to compete in both sports. Offensive lineman Norries Wilson, now head football coach at Columbia Univervity, captained the football team in 1988 and wrestled as a heavyweight. Chris Stogdill, a teammate of RussellâÄôs two decades ago, also played the two sports.

Some of the current Gophers football players wrestled in high school. Freshman offensive lineman Josh Campion was a standout wrestler at Fergus Falls High School.

âÄúI guess he was a stud because he always jokes about wanting to wrestle me,âÄù Filkins said. âÄúThatâÄôs the joke: âÄòHey, do you want to wrestle?âÄôâÄù

Campion might want to be careful. Filkins rarely backs down from a challenge.